Is Canada’s national broadcaster next?!?

BBC strategies focus on online content, adviser tells Heritage committee
The importance of making content widely available online was the frequent refrain in Ottawa Tuesday morning as the BBC’s chief public policy adviser spoke at a hearing of the Canadian Heritage Committee.
“The impact of digital technology cannot be underestimated,” the BBC’s Wilf White, who was joined by his deputy, Daniel Wilson, told the committee at a session exploring the role of a public broadcaster.
Newer technologies such as the BBC’s iPlayer ó which offers web audiences the opportunity to watch its television or listen to its radio programming from the past seven days ó “is radically transforming our business,” White said.
Despite also struggling with problems like market fragmentation, funding constraints and increased competition from new broadcasters and other platforms facing North American counterparts, White said the BBC considers it a very exciting time and is focused on looking for new opportunities.
He praised 1990s-era BBC director-general John Birt for his foresight about the internet as an emerging technology and vision that there would one day be little distinction between radio, television and online.
Because of decisions the former chief made, “there was always a strong link between our television and radio services and our online services,” White said.
“As soon as [audiences] realized there was content there Ö they started wanting to explore.”
For instance, he said, the BBC’s online service has transformed the broadcaster’s ability to seek public opinion on many issues.
In the past, when trying to get the public to comment, “you’d end up with perhaps half a dozen letters,” White said.
“Now we have several thousand people regularly e-mailing us, offering opinions on message boards. We are never short of comments from he public now … Sometimes we can create so much feedback that it can become overwhelming.”
Partnering with other sites
White and Wilson also spoke of deals with partners such as video-sharing site Youtube and social networking sites to show BBC content, in a no-ads environment conducive to its role as a public broadcaster.
While the broadcaster, which on average features 80 per cent European or U.K.-produced content across its services, doesn’t gain revenue from these sorts of deals, savings can sometimes be found in terms of distribution, Wilson said.
“They want our content and we want their audience,” White said, though he admitted that newer technologies aside, he felt there would always be a demand for live programming.
As part of this drive, the BBC chose to “pay a little bit extra” and strike “platform-neutral” rights deals with independent producers and other stakeholders in order to be able to distribute their productions by these newer methods, Wilson said.
“It was a matter of demonstrating how usage has changed, how on demand was very much more important to audiences.”
Pursuing further international co-productions for pricier projects, such as its deal with the CBC for the TV show Doctor Who, and boosting coverage of and productions from its various regions ó such as Wales, Scotland and Ireland ó are also part of the BBC’s plan going forward.
Nevertheless, despite a shifting focus on newer technologies or updating certain practices, “some things don’t change” for audiences, White said, citing “quality, originality, trust.